Sometimes Garrett Wolfe's lack of size -- at least when compared to his peers -- goes beyond absurd.
Take the May day in Phoenix, for example, when Northern Illinois' senior tailback posed for pictures along with the rest of Playboy's 50th All-America team. (Sorry, no Bunnies involved).
|Garrett Wolfe's low center of gravity gives defenders problems. (Getty Images)|
While the 6-foot, 190-pound Meriweather struggled to squeeze inside Wolfe's No. 1 jersey, Meriweather's 'Canes uniform looked like a dress on the chiseled Chicago native. When someone tugged slightly on one of the sleeves, the part of the jersey meant to rest on Wolfe's shoulder drooped down past his elbow.
Why mention this? Because it's the only aspect of Wolfe's football life where he doesn't measure up. Everything else about the nation's No. 1 returning rusher -- Memphis' DeAngelo Williams had to rush for 233 yards in last year's Motor City Bowl in order to overtake Wolfe for the Division I-A title -- can be found on the racks of a Big and Tall store.
Especially now that he finally has earned a clean bill of health after undergoing surgery in January to repair his injured right shoulder.
Want to talk competitiveness?
Northern Illinois running backs coach Thomas Hammock, a former Huskies great himself, marvels at Wolfe's unwillingness to finish second at even the most meaningless task.
"If somebody's going to challenge him, he's definitely going to take the challenge," Hammock said. "And you won't beat him. You really won't. That goes with anything. He always thinks he's the best at everything. And if he's not, he's going to work to be the best."
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Some of Wolfe's Playboy All-American pals learned the hard way. The weekend featured several supposedly good-natured sporting events, including some basketball in the water. Wolfe claimed he hit guys in the ribs trying to drive to the basket. He laughed when he said it, but he didn't appear to be joking.
"I like to think I'm the most competitive person I've ever come in contact with," Wolfe said. "I hate losing. I'll do anything to win. I really will. I'm really prepared to do anything to win."
Want to talk an elephant-sized heart, not to mention an elephant's memory? Thanks to a non-contact injury suffered during spring ball, Wolfe entered last year's opener at Michigan at roughly 80 percent. It marked the healthiest point of his 1,580-yard, 16-touchdown season.
"I think it was April 13, to be exact," he said. "It was a Monday. I happened to fall. Nobody was near me. I happened to trip while I was running and landed on my elbow. Instead of my elbow sliding across the turf, it kind of planted on the ground and that caused the subluxation of my (right) shoulder."
When two months of rest didn't ease his pain, doctors suggested surgery. When Wolfe heard that would cost him the first half of his season, he nixed the operation and hoped for the best.
That plan ended on the third play of the Michigan game, when he took a shot that popped out his shoulder for the first of eight times on the year. "That was the worst one. I felt my shoulder all the way down here," Wolfe said, pointing toward his ribcage.
How long did Wolfe sit out? Well, he sprinted for a 76-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and finished the day with 148 yards. The following week, Wolfe rushed for 245 yards and 3 scores in a 38-37 loss at Sun Bowl-bound Northwestern. Not that he cared about his gaudy numbers.
"I remember we played Northwestern last year and he just rushed for 200-something yards and he was probably hurt the most about losing that game," Hammock said.
"Most guys would probably say, 'I had a good game, we lost by 1.' He was truly hurt. He wanted to win for the school first, but secondly he was playing against guys he played against in high school. And, just being the competitor he is, he wanted to say, 'You missed on me.'"
OK, OK. You've been waiting for the part where the little guy suffers from a Napoleonic complex. Well, here it is. But it's not just due to Wolfe's lack of height. It's more due to Northern Illinois' lack of stature in the college football world.
The Huskies have reeled off six consecutive winning seasons. They have won no worse than a share of the Mid-American Conference's West Division title in four of the past five years. Yet they have played in just one bowl since 1983. Wolfe and the Huskies already have read stories about how their Sept. 2 opener at Ohio State represents the Buckeyes' easiest game on their non-conference slate.
"I still don't feel like we're getting our just due," Wolfe said.
But before that, Wolfe picked up a little extra motivational juice in February when he accepted the MAC Player of the Year award at the annual Touchdown Club of Columbus banquet.
"Just seeing how everyone treated the guys from Notre Dame and Ohio State ..." Wolfe began. "Chris Wells, he's the No. 1 running back recruit in the country and he's going to OSU, hasn't even played a down yet and he's already been anointed the next great guy at Ohio State.
"And it dawned upon me: Of the things I've been fortunate enough to accomplish at Northern Illinois, if I was at Ohio State ... if I was even at Northwestern or Illinois, I'd be mentioned as one of the best football players to ever play in that conference because of what I've accomplished statistically.
"Granted, I do get my fair share of media attention. But in my mind and in my heart, I still don't feel that what I've been able to accomplish -- and what my teammates have accomplished -- I still don't feel we're respected."
In Wolfe's mind, respect comes only with a 'W' on Sept. 2.
"Granted, it would be great to go up there and rush for 200 yards and 4 or 5 touchdowns," he said. "But if we lose the game, we lose the game."